A Master of Social Work (MSW) is one of the best degrees you can have for helping people who really need help and getting paid to do so. Social workers serve individuals, families, and communities. They are ideally positioned to help the disenfranchised, especially those struggling for rights and resources.
Social workers work for themselves, corporations, schools, and the government. Master of Social Work degree programs prepare graduates to practice in clinical settings, social services agencies, schools, healthcare fields, community action programs, companies, court systems, nursing homes and more.
Direct-service social workers help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives, while clinical social workers diagnose and treat behavioral, mental, and emotional issues. Those with an MSW degree are often employed as case workers, counselors, or therapists.
Full-time social work students typically complete their MSW degree in two years. Many schools, however, offer advanced-standing MSW programs to students with a bachelor’s degree in social work. These programs take less than two years to complete.
Ranking Guidelines for MSW Degree Programs
MSW programs include classroom learning and practical field experience. Many master of social work degree programs exist, and their quality varies widely. This ranking is designed to guide you in making a wise choice. We’ve thoroughly evaluated the top MSW programs. We base our rankings on academic quality, range and types of courses offered, faculty strength, internship opportunities, facilities, school awards, rankings and reputation.
The Best MSW Programs
1. University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
The University of Michigan established its School of Social Work in 1951, although the university offered its first social work curriculum 30 years earlier. The School of Social Work enrolls about 730 students in its MSW program and Joint PhD Program in Social Work and Social Science. The school also allows undergraduates to complete a minor in social work.
The School of Social Work offers more than 550 locations for MSW field work. The school has a long history of involvement in global social work research and education, and its Office of Global Activities works to connect MSW students to international social work opportunities through special programs, funding, internationalized curriculum, academic resources, and arranging student and faculty exchanges at partner institutions.
The school’s MSW curriculum builds on a generalist foundation and allows students to tailor the degree to their interests and goals with four practice method concentration areas, including:
- Communication Organization
- Interpersonal Practice
- Management in The Human Services
- Social Policy and Evaluation
The University of Michigan MSW students also choose from five practice areas, such as:
- Aging in Families and Society
- Children and Youth in Families and Society
- Community and Social Systems
- Mental Health
The University of Michigan School of Social Work provides several special programs, which allow students to engage in culturally specific curriculum and training experiences, such as the Geriatric Scholarship Program, the Jewish Communal Leadership Program, and the New Leaders in African-Centered Social Work Scholars Program.
Through a curriculum featuring rigorous behavioral and social research, the Joint PhD program provides students with skills to tackle pressing problems including mental illness, violence toward children, homelessness, and poverty. Joint PhD students earn an interdisciplinary degree in Social Work and one of five social sciences:
- Political Science
2. University of Chicago
Regarded as one of the best graduate schools of social work in the nation, the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration challenges its students to dig deeper to understand the human costs and root causes of social inequity. Opened in 1908, the School of Social Service Administration was among the first schools of social work in the nation and became part of the University of Chicago in 1920.
The School of Social Service Administration has received recognition for helping define and create the social work profession and social welfare field. The School of Social Service Administration laid the foundation for the child-related provisions of the United States’ Social Security system and developed the generic casework curriculum that serves as a model for social work education.
The School of Social Service Administration provides its students with a firm theoretical foundation, policy and clinical perspective, and hands-on experiences. It also infuses interdisciplinary spirit in its teaching and research.
The faculty includes individuals with expertise in international and global social welfare and ties to private and public welfare agencies as well as local, state and national governments. Faculty have received honors such as Fulbright Fellows, White House Fellows, and Kellogg Fellows.
The School of Social Service Administration has a robust international social welfare program agenda with study abroad programs in collaboration with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, India, and a relationship with Peking University in China. The school has relationships with more than 600 agencies, through which master’s students complete two field placements and gain real-world experience.
The two-year Master of Arts program, equivalent to an MSW, features an experiential foundation which combines policy development, interdisciplinary research, and social science theory with direct social work practice, as well as a broader educational foundation.
Master’s students complete elective concentrations in social administration or clinical practice, and can customize the program through several programs of study, such as:
- Family Support Program
- International Social Welfare
- Older Adult Studies
- Poverty & Inequality
- Violence Prevention
The School of Social Service Administration offers a master’s program with several options, such as full-time, part-time and accelerated; a doctoral program, and a professional development program.
The School of Social Service Administration offers more than $4 million in scholarships, and 100 percent of its doctoral students receive full funding.
3. Washington University in St. Louis
St. Louis, Missouri
Washington University’s Brown School of Social Work’s history dates back more than a century, and the school offered its first MSW program in 1945. With programs focused on understanding problems and creating solutions, the Brown School prepares graduates to think broadly about complex health issues and recognize those problems require multifaceted solutions.
Through the school’s affiliation with more than a dozen research centers, faculty connection at other Washington University research centers and more than 300 practicum sites worldwide, the Brown School enables students to gain valuable real-world experience.
The Brown School of Social Work boasts a long history of preparing students for leadership in research with a proven record of successful placement. The Brown School of Social Work provides its students access to the latest research as well as the chance to work with faculty to explore research interests through independent study, special projects, or research assistant positions in topics ranging from mental health services to obesity prevention to violence prevention and public health systems science.
Students can complete practicum hours at the World Health Organization and Helen Keller International, among others.
The Brown School of Social Work’s Master in Social Work degree program features a flexible, innovative curriculum, which provides students with fundamentals to impact the social work field and hone their leadership, analytical and team-building skills.
The school also offers advanced standing credit to applicants who hold a BSW from an accredited school. Students can focus their MSW program by choosing one of eight concentrations:
- American Indian An Alaska Native
- Children, Youth and Families
- Mental Health
- Older Adults and Aging Societies
- Social and Economic Development
- Violence and Injury Prevention
MSW students also can tailor a specialization through elective courses. Specialization options include:
- Sexual Health and Education
- Social Entrepreneurship
- System Dynamics
The university also offers a Ph.D. in Social Work. The university’s doctoral students also have the opportunity for full-tuition remission, four-year stipends for living expenses, and flexible curriculum options.
4. University of California – Berkeley
Established in 1957, the University of California – Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare enrolls about 200 students. Ranked among the top schools of social welfare and social work in the nation, the School of Social Welfare features a curriculum built on evidence, designed to advance social justice, and respond to the needs of global and local communities.
Committed to public service, the school’s prestigious faculty train social workers for a range of advanced practice and leadership roles. The School of Social Welfare’s faculty rank high in the country in per capita productivity. Nationally and internationally recognized faculty conduct cutting-edge research on major issues facing California, the nation, and the world.
The school offers opportunities for internships, international study and leadership training. The school houses the California Social Work Education Center and the California Child Welfare Indicators Project.
The two-year full-time MSW program emphasizes using tested knowledge and theory to develop and apply intervention methods. The school organizes its MSW curriculum around five concentrations:
- Direct Practice in Aging
- Direct Practice in Child and Family Services
- Direct Practice in Community Mental Health
- Direct Practice in Health
- Management and Planning
Students refine their approaches to professional learning, cope with professional dilemmas and cultivate self-reflection while completing both a foundation and an advanced agency-based field practicum. The university has hundreds of approved field placement sites around the San Francisco Bay area.
Students can earn School Social Work Credentials, a Social Work with Latinos Certificate, concurrent degrees in Public Health or Public Policy as well as a Doctor of Philosophy in Social Welfare.
Students can join several student organizations focused on practicing advocacy, social justice, and leadership, such as the Cal Anti-Racism Collaborative, the Caucus for International Affairs, and the Indigenous Student Caucus, among others.
University of California – Berkeley is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). The School of Social Welfare is also accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
5. Columbia University
New York, New York
A leader in social work education and research since 1898, the Columbia University School of Social Work combines real-world practice and rigorous academic theory to enhance the welfare of communities and citizens of New York City, the United States and the world.
Among the oldest and most renowned social work institutions and one of only two Ivy League Schools of social work in the nation, the School of Social Work covers clinical social work, policy, advanced generalist practice and programming as well as social enterprise administration. The School of Social Work seeks to promote social justice, respect for human diversity, and human rights. Faculty members conduct intervention research on poverty-related issues which impact the nation and the world.
The School of Social Work offers two-year, advanced standing, extended, reduced residence, and online programs. Students who hold an undergraduate degree from a Council on Social Work Education-accredited BSW program can take the advanced-standing program and complete the Columbia MSW program in one year.
The Social Work Master’s program features a progressive course sequence with courses in social welfare policy, the social environment, and social work practice. Students gain real-world experience through completing 1,200 field hours.
Columbia University partners with more than 600 programs, agencies and organizations to provide social work learning opportunities throughout the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut region as well as where the online MSW is offered. Columbia MSW students select one of four advanced-practice method concentrations to tailor their degree:
- Advanced Clinical Social Work Practice
- Advanced Generalist Practice and Programming
- Policy Practice
- Social Enterprise Administration
Students also choose one of seven fields of practice:
- Aging & Geriatric Social Work
- Children and Family Services
- Contemporary Social Issues
- Health, Mental Health, and Disabilities
- International Social Welfare and Services to Immigrants and Refugees
- School-Based and School-Linked Services
- The World of Work
Social Work students can pursue a Doctor of Philosophy as well as continuing education programs.
Columbia University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). The social work programs are also accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
6. University of Washington
Founded in 1934, the School of Social Work at the University of Washington (UW) enrolls a little more than 600 students. With a reputation for advanced research, public engagement, and classroom innovation, the School of Social Work promotes economic and social justice for oppressed and poor populations and enhances the quality of life for people worldwide.
Home to educators, social work leaders and practitioners who promote a more humane society and challenge injustice, the school offers public service which enhances empowerment of disadvantaged communities as well as the health and well-being of people at the local, national and international levels.
The University of Washington’s School of Social Work offers a one-year advanced standing Master in Social Work degree program for students who hold an undergraduate degree in social welfare or social work; a two-year day program; and a three-year extended program. The traditional program focuses on professional identity, social justice, social work history, and core social work practice skills. The curriculum combines field work and classroom instruction.
Students in the UW MSW degree program can complete international practicum and study abroad opportunities.
The School of Social Work also offers undergraduate and doctoral degree options. The UW MSW degree program provides the following concentration areas:
- Administration and Policy Practice
- Children, Youth and Families Practice
- Community-Centered Integrative Practice
- Health Practice
- Mental Health Practice
- Multigenerational Practice
The School of Social Work has several programs, such as the Carol LaMare Scholars Program, which supports research efforts and education in oncology social work and palliative care; and the Cambodia Partnership in which the School works with Cambodia’s Royal University in Phnom Penh to build human capacity for social change.
Students also can take part in a host of student affinity groups, including the Association of Black Social Work Students, the Anti-Racism & White Allyship Group, and the Gerontology Social Work Group.
The school also has more than a dozen research and innovation centers ranging from the Behavioral Medicine Research Group to the Healthy Generations Hartford Center of Excellence to the West Coast Poverty Center, and more.
University of Washington is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), and its social work programs are also accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
7. University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California
The USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, which enrolls more than 3,500 students, integrates real-world practice with the science of social work to improve the well-being of people and communities and advance economic and social justice.
The school’s award-winning faculty teach a curriculum which emphasizes communication, critical thinking and collaboration. The social work curriculum also incorporates evidence-informed and evidence-based programs, new directions in early intervention and prevention, and implications of new findings in neuroscience.
Students gain hands-on experience through 1,000 hours of required field internships and a two-hour practice lab, where students learn to apply three evidence-based interventions: Problem-solving therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and motivational interviewing. The school allows students to complete their field placement at nearby government entities, schools, social service agencies, businesses, hospitals or non-traditional settings.
The Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work offers several options for its MSW program, a two-year, three-year or four-year traditional program; a 37-unit advanced-standing MSW program with three- and five-semester options; and an online program. Students eligible for the advanced-standing program can waive their first semester foundation courses.
The school is home to several centers and affiliations, such as the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, the USC Center for Asian-Pacific Leadership, and the USC Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families, among others. USC MSW students choose from three departments of study:
- Adults and Healthy Aging
- Children, Youth, and Families
- Community, Organization, and Business Innovation
The USC MSW degree allows students to customize their degree with options, including:
- Public Child Welfare
- Military Social Work
- Older Adults
- School Social Work
- Systems of Recovery from Mental Illness
The school enables students to earn several dual degrees, in academic areas such as law, public health, gerontology, planning, public administration and Jewish nonprofit management. Students also can pursue a Doctor of Social Work, a Master of Science in Nursing and a Doctor of Philosophy through the School of Social Work.
University of Southern California is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). The Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work is also accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
8. Case Western Reserve University
For more than 100 years, the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University has shown a commitment to the application of social science to improve social welfare. The Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences enrolls nearly 400 students, has 10 endowed professorships and boasts more than 7,800 alumni worldwide.
The rigorous, ground-breaking social work curriculum focuses on informing social change, shaping public policy and transforming lives. World-renowned faculty and small class sizes provide students with personal instruction designed to elevate understanding of social work theory, practice and research.
A leader in professional social work training, the Mandel School offers a Master of Science in Social Administration — equivalent to a Masters in Social Work — in full-time, part-time, intensive weekend, or online formats. The school offers 24 credits of advanced-standing credit to applicants with a bachelor degree from a CSWE-accredited institution. Students can receive advanced standing in the Intensive Weekend, Traditional, and online formats.
Students can choose a concentration in Community and Social Development or Direct Practice. Specializations include:
- Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse
- Children, Youth and Families
- Mental Health (Children and Adolescent Or Adult)
Tracks and certificates include:
- Chemical Dependency Professional License Eligibility
- Global Health
- Management and Leadership
- Nonprofit Management
- School Social Work
The school provides a paid stipend for field placement for full-time, on-campus students.
The Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences is home to a handful of multidisciplinary research centers — such as the Center for Evidence-Based Practices, the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development, and the Dr. Semi J. and Ruth W. Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education, which emphasize using cutting-edge knowledge to enhance service delivery in the community.
The school offers several international opportunities, including short-term study aboard classes during school breaks. The Mandel School has affiliation with more than 350 Greater Cleveland agencies, such as the Cleveland Foundation, the Hospice of the Western Reserve, and the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources.
The school also enables students to earn a Master’s degree in Nonprofit Management, a doctorate in Social Welfare as well as several certificates.
9. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Founded in 1920, the University of North Carolina School of Social Work searches for solutions to the challenges of violence, substance abuse, and poverty through innovative research which enhances education and improves practice. The school has a long tradition of producing leaders and practitioners committed to private, public and nonprofit services and to the development of programs and policies which strengthen people, families, communities, organizations, and groups.
The rigorous curriculum, focused on evidence-based practice and self-reflection, prepares graduates for a variety of careers. UNC School of Social Work collaborates with all the counties in the state on training, programs and research to improve the overall health and well-being of North Carolina’s residents.
UNC School of Social Work offers three formats for its master’s degrees in social work -- full-time, three-year distance education and advanced-standing options. Applicants to the advanced-standing program must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited program. With the help of faculty and staff, UNC MSW students design a plan of study which best reflects their goals.
The degree includes 62 total credit hours and up to 1,100 hours of field work. Faculty members work with students to secure field placements in schools, human service agencies and other nonprofit and public organizations that serve local communities.
Concentration options include Community, Management and Policy Practice, and Direct Practice.
The School of Social Work is home to the Jordan Institute for Families, which works to address family issues across the lifespan.
Dean Gary L. Bowen is a 2016 Fellow of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare.
Students can complete a doctorate in social work as well as dual degree programs offered with UNC’s School of Law, School of Public Health, Department of Public Administration, and Duke University’s Divinity School.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is regionally accredited by Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). The social work program is also accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
10. The University of Texas at Austin
The School of Social Work at The University of Texas at Austin features a diverse, world-class, award-winning faculty with expertise in substance use, mental health, interpersonal violence, health-behavior interventions, and more. The school provides students with dynamic classes, hands-on experience through fieldwork, and the skills needed to promote social change and social justice and to strive to end oppression, discrimination, social injustice and poverty.
The school’s curriculum helps students hone their critical-thinking skills and prepares graduates for advanced social work practice with people, groups, families, communities and organizations.
The 60-semester-hour Master of Science in Social Work (MSSW) program integrates classroom instruction and field experiences using a bio-psycho-social perspective and systems/developmental framework. The social work curriculum also emphasizes commitment to culturally diverse populations, the advancement of the knowledge-base of the social work profession, and social and economic justice.
The MSSW program offers flexible curriculum options, including a two-year, full-time program as well as 2½-, 3- or 3½-year programs. The school also offers an advanced standing option for students who hold a Bachelor of Social Work; they complete 42 to 48 credits to earn the MSSW.
All 60-hour students in the MSSW program complete 1,020 hours of field practicum. The School of Social Work maintains relationships with more than 400 agencies — in Austin, in Texas, and out-of-state and works with students to find placements based on their interest, agency requirements and educational needs. The school also has international partners for students wishing to complete their second field placement abroad. International summer programs are also available.
MSSW students choose from concentrations in Clinical Social Work, which focuses on strengths-based, evidence-based and culturally competent clinical practice technologies; and Administration and Policy Practice, which focuses on six domains — governance, leadership and communication, information management, evaluation, program development, and advocacy.
The school also offers specialized training in medical social work, gerontology, Latino populations, child welfare, and public safety; and dual degree programs that allow students to earn their MSSW in conjunction with a Master of Divinity, Master of Public Health, Master of Public Affairs, Doctor of Jurisprudence, and Master of Arts with Major in Latin American Studies.
The School of Social Work is home to The Utopian, a print and digital bi-annual magazine for alumni and friends, as well as nine research institutes directed by social work faculty. The institutes provide a range of services and pursue interdisciplinary, scientifically rigorous behavioral and social research.
Several of the institutes are shown below:
- Addiction Research Institute
- Health Behavior Research and Training Institute
- Institute for Collaborative Health Research and Practice
- Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialogue
- Institute On Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault
- Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing
The University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work also provides bachelor and doctoral degrees in social work.
The University of Texas at Austin is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). The social work program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
11. University of Pittsburgh
Established in 1918, The University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work enrolls about 670 students from around the world. Recognized as a leader in the field of social work, the school prepares students to work with diverse populations, analyze personal, familial and environmental factors which affect practice techniques and settings, and advocate for others.
The School of Social Work’s diverse faculty instills students with a commitment to economic and social justice and provides them with the foundation and skills needed to become leaders in direct practice with people, families and groups.
The University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work has earned recognition as a national leader in administering comprehensive statewide child welfare education, training and research projects with partnerships with the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare and the US. Administration for Children and Families. The school has the second largest child welfare training program in the nation, and its faculty have expertise ranging from health behavior to domestic violence to juvenile justice, and more. The School of Social Work, the first school to offer a community organization concentration, also developed the Center on Race and Social Problems.
Its students have received a host of accolades, including Fulbright Scholarships, a Boren Fellowship, a Doris Duke Fellowship, and Albert Schweitzer Fellowships.
Students in the 60-credit Master of Social Work program choose from two concentrations: Community, Organization, and Social Action, or Direct Practice with Individuals, Families, and Small Groups. Students in either track can complete a Human Services Management certificate. Students in the Direct Practice track also can complete certificate programs in:
- Children, Youth and Families
- Home and School Visitor/School Social Worker
- Integrated Healthcare
- Mental Health
The School of Social Work offers full-time or part-time enrollment. Students who hold an undergraduate degree in social work can apply for advanced-standing status and receive up to 12 credits. Students complete 1,080 hours of field work, 720 hours for advanced-standing students, at one of the school’s more than 500 field work sites.
The school also offers a bachelor’s in social work, a Doctor of Philosophy as well as joint master’s degrees with other university programs, including the School of Public and International Affairs, School of Public Health, School of Business, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, School of Education, and the School of Law.
University of Pittsburgh is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). The University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work is also accredited by the Council on Social Work Education accreditation.
12. University of Wisconsin – Madison
The University of Wisconsin-Madison founded its School of Social Work in 1946, although the first social work-related courses began in 1896. The School of Social Work challenges students to acquire social work skills, knowledge and values, to provide leadership and to become dedicated social work practitioners. With a focus on social problems and social issues, the school prepares graduates for leadership roles across fields of social work practice.
Students can complete the MSW program on a full-time or part-time basis. During their first year, students focus on generalist practice and gain a strong foundation in social work. The school awards exemptions from some or all the generalist practice courses for students who hold a BSW from an accredited program or through various exemption exams. During their second year, students delve deeper into social work and complete one of these specializations:
- Child, Youth, and Family Welfare
- Mental Health
The school partners with more than 100 agencies where students complete at least 1,150 hours of required field work. The School of Social Work offers some international field placements.
The School of Social Work also is home to a state-of-the art practice skills lab.
The School of Social Work allows students to complete bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in social work as well as dual degrees with the School of Medicine and Public Health, Law School, School of Veterinary Medicine or Pharmacy School.
13. Boston College
Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
Founded in 1936, the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work enrolls about 620 students in master and doctoral programs. The school’s MSW program combines classroom instruction and hands-on experience and cultivates an atmosphere of faculty and student research and intellectual discipline. The school provides a professional framework which respects diversity, promotes individual dignity and seeks distributive justice in the Catholic, Jesuit tradition.
Committed to international dimensions of social work and social problems, the school sponsors the annual International Social Work Conference.
The school combines flexibility and structure with full-time and three-year or four-year program options. Students who hold a BSW degree or MSW course credits may be eligible for advanced standing status. Boston College MSW students choose a Clinical or Macro: Social Innovation and Leadership specialization, as well as a concentration. The school also allows students to tailor their degree with the individualized concentration, which combines courses from two concentrations. Boston College MSW degree concentrations include:
- Children, Youth & Families
- Global Practice
- Mental Health
- Older Adults & Families
MSW students can choose to complete one or more of eight certificate programs:
- Child Welfare
- Latino Leadership
- Neuroscience & Social Work
- Policy & Community Organizing
- Refugees & Immigrants
- School Social Work
- Veterans & Military Families
Through 1,200 hours of field education, Boston College students apply their knowledge in practice situations with people, families, and groups, within organizations and communities. The school has a network of 1,000 agencies for field work. Students complete two field placements — the first during their Foundation Year, and their second during their Advanced Year, which focuses on the student’s selected concentration.
Boston College’s Graduate School of Social Work is home to several centers and institutes, such as the Institute on Aging, Immigrant Integration Lab, and the Center for Social Innovation.
The School of Social Work also allows students to earn dual degrees in law, business, and theology and ministry.
Boston College is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Higher Education (NEASC-CIHE). The social work program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
14. University of California – Los Angeles
Los Angeles, California
Established in 1947, the Department of Social Welfare at UCLA promotes economic and social justice for disadvantaged populations and enhances human well-being. Part of the Luskin School of Public Affairs, the department’s Master of Social Welfare program provides students with a solid foundation in research, theory and social policy.
With a focus on aging, adolescent issues, child welfare, poverty, mental health, and immigration, the UCLA MSW program prepares graduates for leadership roles in social work practice and address the health, social, and mental health needs of diverse populations.
The full-time, two-year program features a core curriculum, an advanced research course or research project, and 1,100 hours of field work. UCLA MSW students choose from two tracks — Macro, which focuses on organizations, communities, and policy; and Micro, which focuses on people, families, and groups. During their first year placement, students participate in direct service as well as community outreach, research activities, staff meetings, and more. The second-year placement focuses on the student’s selected track of study.
The Department of Social Welfare also offers a doctorate in Social Welfare, an undergraduate minor in Public Affairs as well as joint degrees in Asian American Studies, Law, Public Health, and Public Policy.
University of California – Los Angeles is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). The social work program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
15. University of Pennsylvania
Founded in 1908, the Penn School of Social Policy & Practice prepares students to address macro and micro societal problems at the local, national and international levels. Renowned faculty, leaders in their chosen fields, contribute to practice, research and publications on social problems.
Through theory-based programs, innovative research and educational programs, the school encourages multidisciplinary and multicultural thoughts and work as well as the examination of social problems through a global lens. The school prepares social workers for leadership roles in providing and developing services for people, families, groups and communities.
The Master of Social Work curriculum integrates research with the development of practice skills, the study of social policies and problems, theories and methods of social change, and knowledge about human relationships.
The school offers several enrollment options — a two-year full-time program; a three-year part-time program; an advanced standing program for students who hold a BSW; and an employed practitioners’ program for experienced professionals who work full time. The Master of Social Work program features a foundation year and an advanced year, when students focus on a Clinical or Macro concentration.
Students can tailor their degree through taking electives in any of the university’s graduate schools, taking advantage of study abroad opportunities, or completing a specialization or certificate in the following areas:
- Child Well-Being and Child Welfare
- Criminal Justice
- Global Human Rights
- Prisoner Re-entry
- School Social Work
Students can also apply to be a Cohen Veterans Scholar.
MSW students also complete two field placements. The school chooses the placement site from its database of more than 600 agencies.
The university allows students to complete nearly a dozen dual degree programs, including those in law, business administration, and bioethics, among others.
The School of Social Policy & Practice also offers master’s degrees in social policy and nonprofit leadership and doctorates in social welfare and clinical social work.
University of Pennsylvania is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)and by the Council on Social Work Education.
16. New York University
New York, New York
Established in 1960, the NYU Silver School of Social Work offers preparation for direct social work practice. The school also offers a focus on policy practice for students with community and policy interests and on global social work practice with multiple opportunities to study abroad.
The NYU MSW degree program provides students with flexibility of learning through six enrollment options and a broad range of electives. Enrollment options include two-year, 16-month accelerated, advanced standing for individuals with a BSW, extended one-year residence, extended, and 32-month. Non-matriculated students can take a limited number of courses.
Students complete 1200 hours of field learning at one of the school’s 600 affiliated social service agencies. In addition to the many elective courses, the NYU MSW degree program also allows students to choose from several focused learning opportunities associated with field placements in topic areas. These include:
- Evidence-Based Mental Health Practice for Adults With Severe Mental Illness
- Integrated Youth Behavioral Health
- Macro/Micro Practice in Organizations
- Social Work Practice With Substance Abuse and Co-Occurring Disorders
- Zelda Foster Studies in Palliative and End-of-Life Care
Dedicated to excellence in integrating teaching and learning in both classroom and community contexts, the MSW Program prepares its graduates to apply critical thinking, research-based knowledge and practice wisdom to restore, maintain, and enhance the functioning and well-being of individuals, families and communities and promote effective and equitable social policies and social services. Classes are offered at four campuses: the main campus in New York City, and branch campuses in Rockland and Westchester (New York) counties; the first year of the two-year option is also offered in Shanghai, China.
In addition to the MSW program, the Silver School of Social Work also offers programs at the undergraduate and doctoral levels.
New York University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). The bachelor and master programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
17. Fordham University
New York, New York
Founded in 1916, the Graduate School of Social Service at Fordham University promotes social justice, social change, and human rights. Distinguished faculty members educate students with the most current practice theories and the latest research. Built on the Jesuit educational tradition and professional social work values, the school prepares graduates to serve diverse populations.
Students can complete the Master in Social Work program at one of Fordham University’s brick-and-mortar campuses, online or a combination of both. The University also provides social work students with flexibility through part-time, weekend, extended and asynchronous curriculum options. Fordham MSW students focus their education through one of three concentrations:
- Leadership and Macro Practice
Students also complete 1,200 hours of field instruction at an agency in the tri-state area.
Fordham University furthers its mission to promote social justice and human rights through several institutes and centers, including:
- Beck Institute On Religion and Poverty
- Children FIRST
- Fordham Center for Nonprofit Leaders
- Institute for Women and Girls
- National Center for Social Work Trauma Education and Workforce Development
Fordham also offers accelerated degree paths for transfer students and those with BSW degrees, as well as specialized study plans for social work professionals. The school also offers bachelor and doctoral degrees in social work as well as joint MSW degrees in public health, law, divinity, and psychotherapy.
Fordham University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). The university is also accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
18. City University of New York
New York, New York
Founded in 1958, the Lois V. and Samuel J. Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College is among the largest and oldest public schools of social work in the state. The school promotes dedication and civic engagement to public services in New York City. The school’s students, field agencies and alumni service act as the primary social work workforce of the city’s not-for-profit agencies and public human service departments.
Designed to cultivate students’ personal and intellectual development, the curriculum combines classroom instruction and field experience. The two-year, 60-credit Hunter MSW degree program requires students to choose from three practice methods:
- Clinical Practice with Individuals, Families, and Groups
- Community Organizing, Planning and Development
- Organizational Management and Leadership
Students also select a specialization such as:
- Child Welfare: Children, Youth, and Families
- Health and Mental Health
- Global Social Work and Practice with Immigrants and Refugees
- World of Work
Students in the Master’s degree in Social Work program complete 1,200 hours of field work over two years at an agency affiliated with the Lois V. and Samuel J. Silberman School of Social Work. The school also offers a one-year residency program for full-time social service workers and an advanced-standing program for students who hold a BSW.
Students can pursue undergraduate and doctoral degrees in social work as well as a dual MSW/MSEd degree.
The Lois V. and Samuel J. Silberman School of Social Work has several research centers, including the Center for Advancement of Clinical Time Intervention, the National Center for Child Welfare Excellence, the Project for Return and Opportunity in Veterans Education, and the Silberman Aging: A Hartford Center of Excellence in Diverse Aging.
City University of New York is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). The college is also accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
19. Rutgers University
New Brunswick, New Jersey
The Rutgers University School of Social Work has one of the largest social work programs in the country with 1,600 students enrolled. The school promotes economic and social justice and strengthens personal, family and community well-being. Rutgers University offers field placements at about 1,000 agencies throughout the state and country.
The School of Social Work’s MSW degree program features instruction from nationally recognized researchers and leaders in non-profit and public administration and clinical social work. Rutgers MSW students select a concentration in clinical social work or management and policy.
Rutgers University offers several MSW program options — on campus on a full-time or part-time basis; 100-percent online; blended; and an intensive weekend program. They all feature an advanced standing option for students with a BSW. Students also can tailor their degree with several certificate programs, global study and areas of emphases. Rutgers University is home to several centers dedicated to creating positive social change such as:
- Center for Gambling Studies
- Center for Global Social Work
- Center of Leadership and Management
- Institute for Families
Rutgers MSW students can examine the social work practice and social welfare policy of another country through study abroad programs in Israel, Mexico, China, and Romania.
Rutgers University also offers a bachelor’s in social work and doctorates in social work as well as continuing education opportunities. Students also can complete dual MSW degrees in law and divinity as well as an MSW/PhD program.
Rutgers University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). The university is also accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
20. Virginia Commonwealth University
The VCU School of Social Work, founded in 1917, has one of the largest comprehensive social work programs in the country. Its students and world-class faculty advocate for social and economic justice and understanding. The school’s curriculum combines proactive research priorities and diverse field experiences. The school prepares graduates for careers as leaders, scholars and practitioners of social work at the local, state, national and international levels.
After a year of foundational curriculum, students select a concentration in Clinical Social Work Practice or Social Work Administration, Planning and Policy Practice. VCU MSW students complete two field placements, a general placement and one based on their career interests. The school has partnerships with more than 500 human and social service organizations for field placement opportunities.
VCU offers several formats for its MSW program — a two-year full-time on-campus option; a part-time on-campus option; full-time and part-time distance learning options; and a one-year advanced standing option for students with a BSW. MSW students also can complete dual degrees in law, divinity, and public health as well as a handful of certificates. VCU also offers social work programs at the bachelor and doctoral levels.
Virginia Commonwealth University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). The university is also accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
21. Boston University
Boston University School of Social Work promotes well-being, health and empowerment of oppressed groups. Through rigorous teaching, transformative community engagement, and innovative research, the school develops leaders, scholars, and diverse social work practitioners. The school enrolls about 740 students. The dynamic, hands-on Boston University MSW program educates social workers in a rigorous environment and prepares them to apply practice methods with people, families, groups, organizations, and communities.
The school enables student to complete the MSW degree program full-time, part-time or online. MSW programs consist of foundation courses, advanced-level courses and field education. Students complete concentrations in either Clinical Practice or Macro Practice. Students in the Boston University MSW program also tailor their degree through several specialization areas:
- Children, Youth, and Families
- Health and Behavioral Health
- Leadership in Groups, Organizations, and Communities
- Trauma and Violence
Boston University School of Social Work has relationships with 800 social work organizations, where students can complete their required 1,200 hours of field study. Advanced Standing students, who hold a BSW, complete 1,000 hours of field study and can complete one of their placements at their place of employment.
Boston University School of Social Work has three research centers — Center for Addictions Research and Services, Center for Innovation in Social Work and Health, and the Center for Aging, Disability Education & Research.
Students can pursue a doctorate in social work as well as dual master’s degrees in social work and public health, education, or theology.
Boston University is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Higher Education (NEASC-CIHE). The social work program is also accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
22. University of Maryland – Baltimore
The University of Maryland Baltimore’s School of Social Work develops leaders, scholars and practitioners who advance the well-being of communities and populations and promote social justice. Founded in 1961, the School of Social Work is among the largest schools of social work in the nation. Its campus provides two million hours of service to the community each year.
The school’s 60-credit MSW master’s degree program combines foundation credits and advanced credits. Students can choose from Clinical or Macro concentrations or combine the two. Students in the MSW degree program select a specialization to further focus their studies such as:
- Behavioral Health
- Community Action & Social Policy
- Families and Children
Students complete two field experiences — a generalist experience and one related to their concentration and specialization — for 1,200 total field hours.
The school also offers bachelor and doctoral degrees in social work as well as dual master’s degrees in social work and Leadership in Jewish Education and Communal Service, law, business administration, or public health.
The school is home to three research centers — Institute for Innovation & Implementation, the Ruth H. Young Center for Families and Children, and the Family Welfare Research and Training Group.
University of Maryland – Baltimore is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). The university is also accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
23. Ohio State University
The College of Social Work at Ohio State University dates to its first social work course in 1875. The college prepares social work practitioners to enhance personal and community well-being, promote economic and social justice, and celebrate difference. The college focuses on hands-on opportunities in each course, providing students with valuable, relevant experience.
Students in the MSW degree program complete 896 hours of field practicum over two placements — one in a human service agency geared toward generalist social work practice and the other designed to give students greater autonomy. The school partners with 700 agencies throughout Ohio. Students in the Social Work Master’s program also select a specialization area, such as:
- Aging & Health
- Child and Youth Services
- Community and Social Justice
- Mental Health & Substance Abuse
All students in the 63-credit MSW degree program must take advanced micro-level and macro-level courses.
The College of Social Work offers full-time and part-time options and a fully online program, which features the same curriculum as the on-campus program. Students who hold an undergraduate degree in social work from an accredited program may qualify for the ASAP (Advanced Standing Alternative Plan), which awards them 20 credits toward the degree.
The College of Social Work also offers undergraduate and doctoral degrees as well as joint master’s degrees in public affairs, public health and city and regional planning. Students also can pursue a combined MSW/PhD.
24. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign School of Social Work emphasizes social change and improving conditions of disadvantaged populations. Award-winning faculty help students build skills necessary for successful social work careers as advocates, therapists, policy reformers, clinicians, and more.
The School of Social Work offers three types of MSW programs — Advanced Standing, for those who hold a BSW from an accredited program; a full-time or part-time on-campus program; and the MSW Outreach Program, which includes blended and hybrid weekend courses for working professionals. Students in the MSW degree program choose from two concentrations — Advanced Clinical or Leadership and Social Change. Students in the Advanced Clinical concentration further tailor their studies by selecting a focus area, such as:
- Children, Youth, and Family Services
- Health Care
- Mental Health
- School Social Work
The School also requires students in the MSW degree program to complete at least 930 hours of field study once they’ve completed MSW coursework. Students work with field education faculty to select an internship that provides them with hands-on experience working with clients.
Students also can earn social work degrees at the bachelor and doctoral levels.
The School of Social Work is home to the Children and Family Research Center and the Center for Prevention Research and Development.
25. University of Denver – University College
The University of Denver, Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW) enrolls more than 500 students from around the world. The school’s MSW curriculum promotes a strong commitment to social justice and an ethical social work practice. An advocate for an inclusive and integrated model of social work and a leader in promotion of diverse communities, the Graduate School of Social Work helps students apply social work research and theories through community projects, internships and case studies.
GSSW has four program locations to fit diverse learning needs. Although concentration options differ between locations, all University of Denver MSW programs provide students with small class sizes, world-renowned faculty and an individualized learning experience. MSW students choose from over 600 community field internship options, and complete over 550 internship hours per year as part of the curriculum.
University of Denver MSW program options:
- Denver Campus MSW Program: eight specialized concentrations, two unique certificates and international courses and internships
Degree Types: Advanced Standing and Traditional
- Online MSW Program: coursework is 100 percent online, concentration in Mental Health and Trauma
Degree Type: Traditional Only
- Four Corners MSW Program (located in Durango, Colorado): concentration in Advanced Social Work Practice with a focus on rural and tribal communities
Degree Types: Advanced Standing and Traditional
- Western Colorado MSW Program (located in Glenwood Springs, Colorado): concentration in Advanced Social Work Practice with an emphasis on rural social work practice, integrated health and sustainability
Degree Types: Advanced Standing and Traditional
Denver Campus MSW students can pursue a dual master’s degree in law, public policy, business administration or theology. GSSW also offers a social work doctoral program.
Traditional MSW Program
MSW programs typically provide basic and advanced practice skills, as well as clinical and nonclinical concentrations. In the first year of a traditional two-year MSW program, students receive a thorough grounding in their discipline, completing a range of courses that cover the CSWE core competencies.
Such foundation courses help students develop the general knowledge and skills they need to engage in social work with families, groups, individuals, organizations and communities. After studying the foundations of social work, students specialize, focusing their study on an area of concentration that prepares them to work in fields of interest and with specific populations. Master of Social Work degree concentrations include:
- Advanced Clinical Social Work Practice
- Advanced Generalist Practice and Programming
- Child, Youth, and Family
- Human Services Management
- Mental Health
- Organizational Leadership and Policy Practice
- Social Policy and Evaluation
- Substance Abuse
Online MSW Programs
Students can also earn their Master’s in Social Work online. Online programs offer MSW students more flexibility and freedom so they can be more successful while focusing on work and family commitments. Accredited online MSW programs offer the same curriculum as their on-campus counterparts, and are often taught by the same faculty. Check out our ranking on the best online MSW programs here.
MSW Advanced Standing Students
Students with a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree from a CSWE accredited program may receive advanced standing in an MSW program. The typical MSW program consists of the equivalent of two years of full-time study. Advanced standing may reduce graduate requirements to one year. Graduates of BSW degree programs are not limited to attending the same school to acquire advanced standing status in an MSW program.
Master in Social Work Practicum
The CSWE requires Master’s in Social Work degree students complete a generalist field education experience and an advanced field experience and at least 900 hours of field education. MSW students often complete field education while taking courses. Students taking a traditional MSW program usually need 900 to 1,200 hours of field education, whereas students in an advanced standing program usually need to complete from 450 to 1,000 hours of field education.
Social Work Master’s programs typically include two types of field education: foundation placement and advanced placement. Students complete foundation placement during the first year of the program. Students in the foundation placement acquire basic social work knowledge and skills and complete assignments in a variety of social work roles. They learn how to work with people of all ages, backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses. Students in an advanced placement gain in-depth experience in their main method (clinical or macro) and with populations or environments of their choice.
Accredited Social Work Degree Programs
The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) provides accreditation to social work programs that meet its rigorous standards. This standard helps ensure that social work programs adequately prepare students for professional social work practice. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes the CSWE as the only social work education accrediting agency in the country. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) as well as social work licensing laws in most states require students to have a social work degree from a CSWE-accredited program.
Types of Social Workers
Social work includes three major types of work: Macro, direct-services, and clinical.
- Macro Social Workers
- They work at the level of programs, government policy and institutions. They work with communities, large groups of people, major institutions and cities. They help clients through intervening in large systems, such as advocating for large-scale social policy change, lobbying to change healthcare laws or organizing state-wide activist groups.
- Macro social workers may have leadership roles in organizations or government agencies, or they may participate in large-scale research.
- Macro social work often involves assisting communities identify needs, designing interventions as well as implementing strategies to improve the quality of life of people within a community.
- Licensed Clinical Social Workers
- They typically help people who have psychiatric conditions or emotional disturbances. They focus on evaluating, diagnosing, treating and preventing mental illness, emotional and other types of behavioral issues. They may provide individual, group and family therapy. Licensed clinical social workers provide services in settings such as hospitals, primary care, community mental health, elder care facilities, child and family services, rehabilitation facilities, private practice, agencies, and more.
- Clinical social workers often work as part of a large team, with professionals in other disciplines such as psychiatrists, and advanced practice psychiatric nurses. Some licensed clinical social workers work in private practice, they provide services similar to mental health counselors. Clinical social workers also work with clients who have illnesses other than primarily psychological illnesses.
- Note: The designation for social workers with a clinical social worker license varies by state. Some states provide the title Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) for social workers with a license, whereas other states may use a title such as Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW) or Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW). Each state has its own social work licensing board which establishes specific requirements for clinical social work licensure for its residents.
- Clinical Social Workers without a license
- These social workers can practice clinical social work within organizations under the supervision of a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). They need to become a licensed clinical social worker to enter private practice.
- Direct Service Social Workers
- They help people with everyday issues. They connect people with services they need. They often perform intake and initial screening. Direct service social workers make referrals, determine program eligibility, provide mediation services, and perform case management.
- A direct care social worker may perform some counseling, but they cannot provide psychotherapy. Nonclinical social workers generally provide counseling to people who are basically healthy mentally. The counseling is limited in scope.
See also: What can I do with a Social Work degree?
Social Work Employment Areas With an MSW Degree
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts a 12% job growth for social workers from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. The job growth varies by social worker specialty. From 2014 to 2024 the BLS forecasts a 19% job growth for healthcare social workers; 19% job growth for mental health and substance abuse social workers, and 6% job growth for child, family and school social workers.
- Gerontology (Aging)
- Public welfare
- Child welfare
- Justice and corrections
- School social Work
- Substance abuse
- Mental health and psychiatric social work
- Employment/occupational social work
- Developmental disabilities
- Community organization
- Health and clinical social work
- International social work
- Policy and planning
- Adoption and foster care agencies
- Private practice
- Employee assistance programs
- Advocacy and coalition groups
- Domestic violence agencies
- Drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers
- Nursing homes/skilled nursing facilities
- Homelessness & hunger advocacy networks
- Women’s shelters
- Long-term care facilities
- Military/veterans counseling services
- Assisted living facilities
- Senior centers
- Social and human services centers
- Palliative and hospice care
See also: What can I do with a Social Work degree?
How Much Does a Social Worker Make?
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary in 2016 for social workers was $46,890 (half earned more, half less). Salaries from highest to lowest by employer are as follows: Federal executive branch; general, medical, and surgical hospitals; local government; state government; and individual and family services.
Social workers with specialized skills can earn well above this median: those with counseling or psychiatric experience earn a median annual salary above $54,000 and those able to speak Spanish earn above $50,000.
As of March 2017, PayScale lists the following salary information for social workers:
|Social Worker (MSW)||$33,749 to $61,101 (Based on 198 salaries)|
|Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)||$41,469 to $76,864 (Based on 456 salaries)|
|Clinical Social Worker||$38,714 to $72,282 (Based on 128 salaries)|
|School Social Worker||$35,233 to 67,491 (Based on 101 salaries)|
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2016), the median wages for social workers are:
|Healthcare Social Workers||$53,760|
|Child, Family, and Social Workers||$43,250|
|Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers||$42,700|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics